Project to increase solar power on Salt Lake's west side just got funding boost

Jose Perez installs solar panels on the roof of the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Feb. 1, 2012. Funding is coming to the city's west side to increase solar energy there.

Jose Perez installs solar panels on the roof of the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Feb. 1, 2012. Funding is coming to the city's west side to increase solar energy there. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — An effort to help west-side businesses pursue rooftop solar power and battery backup systems just had a breakthrough.

A big chunk of change from American Express is coming to a project focused on ways to refine Rocky Mountain Power's battery incentive program to better serve people of color, including exploring new financing mechanisms and a statewide clean energy fund that would expand underserved communities' access to solar energy.

The funding is part of a $5 million global commitment from American Express to help cities build residency amid climate change. The corporation awarded the Urban Sustainability Directors Network $1.2 million to work with three cities, including Salt Lake City, to install energy systems. The network did not respond to's request about how much of the $1.2 million will go to Salt Lake City.

American Express will also provide $325,000 to the city to complement incentives and financial strategies to help west-side small businesses install solar with optional battery systems.

City officials say the funding will support up to five westside businesses or nonprofits. Those five will be selected through an application process that the city and its project partners — specifically, Utah Clean Energy, the Suazo Business Center, Rocky Mountain Power, the Utah Office of Energy Development, Centro Civico Mexicano, the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and McKinstry — will oversee. The goal is to announce the businesses by spring 2023.

The efforts will bring the west side closer to building climate resiliency — a crucial step considering the west side, like many historically marginalized communities, is facing the brunt of climate change. Solar systems will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support local clean energy jobs and lower energy costs.

The project was kickstarted in March when the U.S. Department of Energy selected the city as one of eight to receive support as part of the department's Solar Energy Innovation Network. The project, which is projected to be done by May, includes hosting community listening sessions, producing case studies and creating culturally-relevant outreach tools. However, it did not include funding to help businesses install solar systems. The funding from American Express will help fill that gap, say city officials.

"I'm thrilled with American Express' generosity, which will build off the hard work our city team and partners have done to advance solar on our west side," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a statement. "We have the tools to reduce climate emissions, strengthen community resiliency, and save our businesses and residents money through clean energy, and this collaboration is a perfect demonstration of that."

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Sydnee Chapman Gonzalez is a reporter and recent Utah transplant. She works at the Utah Investigative Journalism Project and was previously at and the Wenatchee World in Washington. Her reporting has focused on marginalized communities, homelessness and local government. She grew up in Arizona and has lived in various parts of Mexico. During her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, rock climbing and embroidery.


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